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'Parks and Recreation': Sing, muse, of government goddess Leslie Knope

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Parks Rec Poehler Painting
Ron Tom/NBC

I’ve got to start this post by thanking Steve Carell — not only for being amazing on seven seasons of The Office, but also for inadvertently helping to get us an extra eight minutes of Parks and Recreation tonight. A super-sized episode of The Office led to a super-sized episode of Parks and Rec, one that may just have been the season’s best — and that’s saying something when a show is as consistent as this one.

The number one reason “Jerry’s Painting” was such a success? Its brilliant plot. Leslie is off her game at the top of the episode. Though she and Ben like each other, they can’t act on their feelings because of Chris’s rule forbidding office romances. As Leslie tells Ann, she’s feeling like the old lightbulb in the corner of her ceiling — “Weak, flickering, barely giving off any light. Unable to make out with the lightbulb I want to make out with.” But Leslie gets an unexpected surge of confidence from the unlikeliest of places: a piece of artwork that pictures her as the powerful, topless, fictional (as far as I can tell) Greek centaur goddess Diaphena. Though the painting is the result of Jerry pulling a Jerry — he didn’t mean to give his subject Leslie’s face — Leslie loves it.”Every time I look at it,” she tells the camera, “I just think to myself, ‘What can’t that centaur woman do?’ Besides ride an escalator and drive a car.”

Alas, not everyone in Pawnee is as enlightened as Leslie Knope. Marcia Langman, previously seen demanding Leslie to grant two gay penguins a divorce and protesting the Twilight books, comes to City Hall and declares the painting obscene; according to her, it promotes bestiality. (No, humans and animals aren’t having sex in the picture, but Marcia doesn’t like what the existence of a centaur implies: “How did it get like that? Who had sex with what and gave birth to which?”) An appearance on Ya Heard? With Perd alongside a local porn star and an impassioned plea to the hippie-filled Public Art Commission aren’t enough to save the painting; it has nipples in it, which is enough for the government to agree that it should be destroyed.

Leslie, of course, won’t let herself be defeated so easily. First, she snatches the painting and makes a run for it, landing at April and Andy and Ben’s place (more on that later). Then, after Chris chastises her — he’s so angry his heart is literally racing, going 45 beats per minute! — she brings the painting back to the office… and somehow convinces Jerry to paint an alternate version of it featuring a male centaur. He does so in a few hours at most. Maybe this solution strained the limits of credulity, but it was perfect enough that I didn’t care.

The episode’s B-plot, in which responsible Ben moved in with childish April and Andy, was no less satisfying. Everything about the way April and Andy live is delightfully, perfectly grotesque — they eat food off Frisbees and share a single plastic fork! They wash their clothes in bubble bath! They test the fire alarm by melting marbles in a frying pan! Ben’s utter squareness complements their weirdness well, so hopefully this storyline will extend past tonight’s episode.

“Jerry’s Painting” was so fantastic that it’s going to be hard to keep the highlights section a reasonable length, but I’ll give it the ol’ college try:

– Ben has been staying at the Pawnee Super Suites Motel for seven months. “It’s a charming little inn with wonderfully random wake-up calls, delightfully unstable temperatures, and, as of yesterday, bedbugs. Four stars, says nobody!”

– April’s list of ridiculous house rules are similar to, but not funnier than, Tom’s list of names for food. My favorite? “If you ever speak to me in Spanish, please use the formal usted.”

– Poor, simple Andy thinks that electricity is free. No wonder he lived in The Pit for so long.

– I have a feeling Ron’s art show introduction may have been a lot of people’s favorite part of the episode, so here it is: “Okay, everyone, shut up and look at me! Welcome to Visions of nature. This room has several paintings in it. Some are big, some are small. People did them and they are here now. I believe that after this is over, they’ll be hung in government buildings. Why the government is involved in an art show is beyond me. I also think it’s pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they could just go outside and stand in it. Anyway, please do not misinterpret the fact that I am talking right now as genuine interest in art and attempt to discuss it with me further. End of speech.”

– Weird Orin participates in the art show — he’s just standing in front of a blank backdrop and staring straight ahead, Marina Abramović-style. Says Ron: “You forgot to paint a painting, son.”

– Tom: “That’s what you see when you close your eyes at night, Jerry. Topless Leslie glued to a horse!”

– Leslie’s centaur-inspired hairstyle is pretty fetching.

– Perd: “Leslie, for our viewers at home who might not know, are centaurs real? …You’re absolutely sure?”

– Leslie: “I didn’t know Brandi was going to offer me a role in her next film.” Chris: “I urge you not to take that role.”

– Tom, at the hearing about the painting: “Hey! I am not a fat baby. I’m a small, slender man. Similar to actor Taye Diggs. So let the record reflect that. That I look like Taye Diggs.”

How did you like “Jerry’s Painting”?